6. Adolf and Rudolph Dassler’s rivalry was so intense it divided a whole German town, though it did give the world two iconic sports brands
They’ve been called Germany’s own Romulus and Remus. Except the Dassler brothers didn’t find a city. Instead, they established two of the world’s most famous brands, Puma and Adidas. Indeed, the two giant global corporations grew out of single-family business. Quite what caused Adolf and Rudolph to fall out remains the source of much debate. However, once they did fall out, there was no going back. Their rivalry and mutual distrust was like something out of a soap opera. Even though both brothers went on to enjoy great success in the world of business, they never put their differences behind them.
By the time Germany was plunged into the Second World War, the Dassler brothers had been running their family sports shoe business for 25 years. And they’d been enjoying significant success, too. They even managed to persuade legendary US sprinter Jesse Owens to wear their shoes at the Olympic Games. But, by the 1930s, tensions were running high. According to some versions of the tale, the handsome Rudolph had an affair with his plain-looking brother’s wife. Whether this is true or not, by the end of the war, the two men were bitter rivals. Both were determined to stay in their hometown of Herzogenaurach. However, they would not work together. Adolph crossed the river and set up Adidas. Rudolph, meanwhile, established a factory across the river, naming it Puma. The corporate rivalry was born.
For decades, it was said that the whole town of Herzogenaurach was divided in two. If you worked in the Adidas factory, then you had your own pubs, clubs and restaurants, and it was considered taboo to socialize with, let alone date, a Puma worker. This continued for decades, and the two companies only really started to build bridges in 2009, when they held a friendly football match in the town. But, while the town has moved on from the rift, the two brothers never got over it. Even when Rudi lay in his death bed, Adi refused the priest’s call to come and see him one last time. It may have taken a huge personal toll, but the sibling rivals gave the world two huge – and indeed, iconic – sports brands, and few people who wear their products know that they were born out of such unhappiness.